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Ransomware removal: 4 steps to remove ransomware

Do you need to know how to remove ransomware? Unfortunately, yes. Ransomware is one of the most prevalent cyber threats and can be devastating. By infecting computers and locking or encrypting files, this malware can cause untold damage to individuals and businesses. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to remove ransomware.

Ransomware removal: 4 steps to remove ransomware

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Can ransomware be removed?

While ransomware removal can be complex, it is possible with the right steps and precautions. However, your ability to remove it depends on the type of ransomware you encounter and the measures you take immediately after detection.

Unfortunately, a highly complex ransomware attack may be impenetrable. What’s more, some malware can detect decryption tools and attempts to remove them and react by corrupting or overwriting encrypted data to delete it permanently.

As in most ransomware examples we’ve discussed on our blog, removing ransomware from your device or system might destroy your files in the process. That’s why businesses are inclined to pay ransom to receive a decryption key and keep their files intact. However, you should still try to remove ransomware from your device because you might be successful.

How to remove ransomware

Many types of ransomware can be removed from infected devices by following the proper procedures and without paying the ransom. However, this process may cause your files to be permanently lost or damaged, but the loss may be limited if you have a recent backup.

Here’s the usual process for removing ransomware:

  1. Isolate the infected device(s). Act quickly to prevent the ransomware infection from spreading and affecting more devices. When ransomware is detected on a device, it should be immediately disconnected from all physical and virtual connections. This process includes unplugging network cables, disconnecting Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, and logging the device out of any storage media or cloud accounts. If you suspect other devices in contact with this device may have become infected, they must also be isolated following the same procedures. If this happens quickly, you may be able to control the spread of the ransomware onto other devices.
  2. Determine the type of ransomware. By keeping yourself educated and looking at Threat Center reports, you may already be familiar with the specific ransomware infection affecting your devices. Identifying the specific ransomware variant will help you determine the feasibility of using a decryption tool.
  3. Quarantine or remove the ransomware software. Run your antivirus and anti-malware software to scan your system. Up-to-date security software may be able to quarantine or remove the ransomware infection for you. If the scan removes the malware, your computer will be safe to use again.
  4. Restore or recover the system from backup. Often, though, properly encrypted files are almost impossible to decrypt without a key. This is why it’s critical to back up your important data regularly. Even if your files become encrypted or corrupted, backups can mitigate the impact of ransomware. However, before you restore your system, it’s critical to be 100% sure that the backup files haven’t also been corrupted and that no remnants of the ransomware have been left on your device.

How to remove screen-locking ransomware

Locking ransomware works differently from encrypting ransomware by locking the entire system or certain functionalities, such as access to the desktop, files, or specific applications.

You may be able to restore access by following these steps:

1. Disconnect your internet. Disconnect the device from the internet to prevent the ransomware from communicating with its server and potentially causing more damage.

  • On Windows, click the network icon in the system tray and disconnect from your network.
  • On a Mac, click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and turn off Wi-Fi.

2. Start your computer in safe mode. This step will help you bypass the screen lock and access the device.

  • In Windows, hold down the F8 key while starting the computer. When a menu shows on the screen, choose “Advanced Boot Options” > “Safe Mode with Networking.”
  • On a Mac, hold down the Shift key while restarting to enter safe mode.

3. Run antivirus and anti-malware scans. Reputable security software will be able to identify and isolate the ransomware after running a complete system scan.

4. Delete manually if necessary. If anti-malware scans cannot identify and remove malicious files, you may have to find and delete them manually. You must be very careful not to delete system files because doing so could affect your computer’s operation. Use the System Configuration tool (msconfig in Windows) to disable suspicious startup programs. Search for and delete any recently installed unfamiliar applications.

5. Restore your device. It’s important to set restore points regularly when you’re sure your computer is functioning properly. By restoring your system to a restore point, you’ll return your computer to the same settings and configurations it had before it was compromised.

  • In Windows, press the Windows Key + R to start the “Run” dialog. Type “rstrui.exe” into the command prompt to run Windows System Restore.
  • On a Mac, connect the storage device that contains your last Time Machine backup and use Migration Assistant to restore your system.

6. Reset your device. If none of these ransomware removal solutions works to unlock your screen, you can reset your computer as a last resort. However, this step will erase all content on the device, so ensure you’ve backed up all your critical data.

  • In Windows, open “Start” > “Settings” > “System” > “Recovery Options.” Select the option to ”Reset this PC.”
  • On a Mac, click the Apple menu, then select “Restart.” Hold down Option-Command-R to reinstall macOS. This will erase your hard disk and reinstall your operating system.

Who can assist with ransomware removal?

If you have little experience with malware, it can be incredibly challenging to successfully remove ransomware on your own. Instead, you may be able to find help from professional cybersecurity experts. You may be able to connect with them through private firms or cybersecurity authorities in your area who want to help prevent further ransomware outbreaks.

Ransomware attacks are illegal, so law enforcement may also be able to help. The sooner you act, the better you can limit the damage caused by the ransomware attack to your organization or personal devices.

How can you verify successful ransomware removal?

You must be 100% sure all ransomware has been removed from your devices before reconnecting them to networks. Here are some ways to be sure it’s gone for good:

  1. Your screen is no longer locked.
  2. Ransom notes no longer appear on your screen.
  3. You can access previously locked or encrypted files.
  4. Security scans using antivirus software and anti-malware software don’t detect malicious code.
  5. Your system works without unusual crashes or slow-downs.
  6. Your systems logs and security reports don’t indicate unusual activities or errors.
  7. Your network logs don’t show any unusual outward connections.
  8. Your firewall and other network security settings are configured and working correctly.

If you’re unsure if the ransomware is gone, consult a professional. Experienced cybersecurity professionals have access to specialized forensic tools to detect remnants of malware and identify soft points in your security system.

An ounce of prevention

Knowing how to get rid of ransomware and recover your files from backups is preferable to paying extortionate ransom demands. However, prevention is the most crucial part of any security plan. It’s always best to regularly test your security and make updates to improve your defenses to prevent ransomware from reaching your critical files.